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False Forms of Love: Love/Lust Confusion

Synopsis: Common questions; The chemistry conundrum; From passion to ecstasy and beyond; Lifetime lechery; Love as a prerequisite for sex; How parenting and friendship can help; and Straight talk or fog talk.

Common Questions

Is it love or is it lust?  I don’t know if I’ve fallen in love or I’m just in lust?  I know I’ve got a lot of lust but is there love there too?  I think I love him but shouldn’t there be more lust?  Did I actually love her or did lust blind me to what was really going on?  Issues of love and lust confusion abound.  When people don’t get the right understanding of which is which, and when one is happening and not the other, love relationship tragedies can and often do result.

The Chemistry Conundrum

The ever so common confusion about sex and love starts with our biochemistry and neurochemistry.  You see, whenever two, naked, higher order, mammalian bodies of similar species rub all over each other in the process of engaging in sex, the brain frequently makes a neurochemical compound called oxytocin.  It just so happens that this particular chemical compound is quite helpful in getting us to feel very pleasurably connected or bonded with one another.  That, in turn, can trigger all our inner, subconscious programming from our culture and upbringing having to do with marriage, romantic love and coupling.

This can produce additional feelings of ‘falling in love’ bonding, connectedness, being united romantically, etc.  That combination of feelings often is mistakenly identified as a full, ‘true love’ event.  Making that interpretation is a mistake because healthy, real love requires and involves a number of additional phenomena.

While the oxytocin produced or facilitated feelings can be a part of a healthy, real love event, by itself it is not enough.  For one thing a comprehensive understanding of healthy, real love suggests real love is far broader, deeper and also lasts longer than oxytocin involved events.  Know that the available evidence also suggests there are people who experience the oxytocin effect and its accompanying bonding feelings with just about everyone they physically touch in personal ways.  Know also that men and women who lovingly have sex with various others may experience these feelings with a variety of different people.

This is thought to be because they easily and frequently seem to produce oxytocin after a certain amount of skin to skin contact has occurred with almost anyone.  Perhaps, in a way, such people actually do have some love for each of their ‘touch’ and/or sex partners, but the love involved there is more likely to be a friendship-type rather than a spousal, romantic-type love.  At least this is some of the current thinking concerning love, sex and oxytocin.  Admittedly, much research has yet to be done in all this.

From Passion to Ecstasy and Beyond

Sabrina had grown quite an understanding of Love/Lust Confusion by way of intensely living it, and later analyzing it.  Sabrina said, “About an hour after I got in bed with Lance I knew he was the man for me.  He made love to me like no other man ever had, and I was totally his right from that first night together.  I couldn’t keep my hands off of him, or any other part of my body for that matter.  Every time I was around him I just had to get him in me, on me and all over me.  When I was away from him I sexually fantasized about Lance every hour of the night and day.  Every time I heard from him I got turned on.  I just knew that this must be what passionate, real love is all about, and Lance seemed to feel pretty much the same way.

“We had a quickie marriage and everything was passion and ecstasy.  We often made love in the morning before going to work, came home for ‘nooners’, and then created a banquet of erotic pleasures at night after work.  Sometimes we would go to a party or some other event but always left early so we could ‘get it on’ again.  Pregnancy slowed us down a little, and then some financial difficulties, and after that some other stressful problems happened with his ex.  Then our lust just began to sort of fade away.  We tried doing wilder things and that brought back our passion for a little while, but then the fade-out continued.

“Finally there just wasn’t anything left.  Except for our wonderful daughter, we discovered we really didn’t have much we wanted to share with each other.  We drifted apart emotionally, separated, eventually got divorced, and basically went our separate ways – except as co-parents.  Once in a while we got together and had sex but it just wasn’t the same.  Today we sort of love each other like a brother and sister, but not otherwise.    I am extremely grateful for the wonderful daughter we share, and ever so thankful for all the passion and sexual ecstasy we once experienced together.

“We were amazing as sex partners together but that’s all it was.  Now a richer, more complete love fills my life.  My current sex life is a whole lot more mixed with a calm kind of love.  It’s not better or worse, it’s just different than what I had with Lance.  My history with him is part of what makes me who I am, so I wouldn’t change any of it.  But that wasn’t always the case.  I went through some really hard times when we were drifting apart and after the divorce.  I really got confused about love, sex, life and became sure there must be a lot wrong with me.  Counseling got me through all that and now I understand so much more than I ever did before.  Today my thinking is sort of like ‘been there, done that, don’t need to do it again’.  I moved on to a new, different and better life for who I am now, but I’m actually quite glad for all of what went before.”

Sabrina had a much easier time of experiencing this false form of love than do many, although toward the end of her life with Lance there were some pretty tough times.   She came to see that she was pretty much ‘set up’ for having this fake form of love lead her astray from the real thing.  With work Sabrina came to understand that the culture she grew up in was more ‘a cause’ than the way she was raised by her parents.  Growing up she was much affected by romance literature, love poems, ‘love story’ movies and the romanticized sexuality constantly talked about in her peer group.  Lust was never talked about as such, but it was understood that something was supposed to come along and ‘sweep her off her feet’ when she met her ‘true love’ to whom she would totally, passionately surrender her body, mind and soul.

She also was taught not to differentiate love and sex because ‘good girls’ just didn’t do that sort of thing.  If sexual feelings occurred without love it meant you were a low class slut, a sinner going to hell, and not fit for better class living.  Sabrina’s parents didn’t do a lot to support that kind of thinking but they didn’t do anything to counter it either.  Eventually Sabrina came to understand she was a woman with a very healthy, sex drive who grew up in an old-fashioned subculture zone which ill prepared her for what life would actually present her.

The societal sphere Sabrina was raised in had little to offer in the way of useful knowledge about healthy, real love or sexuality.  At least her social sphere was not totally and directly anti-sexual like the social spheres of some people.  With careful examination Sabrina understood that nothing was wrong with her except that she had been ‘set up’ by a social ethos that had little to do with the facts of real and healthful human nature.  Instead she saw that her head had been filled with misleading fairy stories, false love-promoting romance novels, sick love poetry, and the lyrics of love-failure music, plus the idealization of profoundly immature, adolescent ways of looking at love.  Understanding these things Sabrina saw it was completely understandable that in her world half the marriages would fail and another fourth would fall far short of being really desirable.

Sabrina also figured out that another big cultural ‘set up’ for love relationship failure had to do with society’s emphasis on romantic love, to the exclusion of other kinds of love.  She saw she was not socially trained very much for friendship love, self-love, spiritual love or altruistic love.  These forms of love got some ‘lip service’ but there was precious little beyond that.  Fortunately, Sabrina’s family modeled some pretty good family love and she was able to build on that.  Since then, by applying herself to learning about healthy, real love, Sabrina has done wonderfully well.

Lifetime Lechery

Some people take a lifetime to figure out the problems of Love/Lust Confusion.  Listen to Turk.  “I was thinking about getting married for the fourth time when a buddy of mine cared enough to yell at me, saying I was about to make the same, stupid mistake I had made three times before.  He quite clearly pointed out that all I ever talked about was how great each of my women were in bed, and, yes, those women were all sexy as hell, but there wasn’t much else that would do me any good.  My friend then dragged me into counseling because that’s where he got straightened out.

“It was there I learned that love wasn’t just a nice word for sex, but that it really meant a whole lot of other, really important things.  If he hadn’t cared enough to pound some truth in my thick head I would have spent my entire life as a love-starved, lonely lecher wondering why the hell my relationships weren’t working.  As it is, I seem to be the only guy in the last four generations of my family that has a chance of getting this love thing right.  My goal is to make sure I break the chain and my sons don’t follow the family tradition.”

Turk is a good example of a great many men, and actually no small number of women, who get stuck at a sex-focused, adolescent stage of development.  Turk and people like him can be so sex-oriented that they never learn about the love that leads to a great mated relationship.  They see parent, child and family love as a thing apart from real, romantic love.  No one teaches them that, at the core, all real loves are the same.  At long last Turk did learn that love is a special, personal, high valuing of the loved one, deeply connecting lover and loved for nurturing, protecting, healing (when needed), and sharing the joys of life together (See “Definitions of Love”).

Love As a Prerequisite for Sex

“I can’t have sex with a guy unless I feel love for him”, Jane said.  Caitlin replied, “I won’t go to bed with a guy until he has told me that he loves me.  Later when I find out he doesn’t, I cry but at least I don’t feel guilty.  Well maybe a little.”  Trish remarked, “I know I tell myself I’m in love with each guy I go to bed with, and I always think, maybe I could love this guy.”  Frank related, “It’s hard for me to give myself permission to have sex with a woman unless I think she loves me, but afterwards I get sort of angry because I feel obligated to keep going with her because, after all, she loves me, so I owe her”.

Marcus then said, “I tell every girl that I’m in love with her, and about half the time that’s what it takes to get me in her panties.  Now I wonder if that’s getting in the way of me getting really loved?”  Lisa with tears in her eyes said, “I didn’t know I really did love John until he left me, and it hurts so much.  Until then he was just my boy toy.  I had told him I loved him just because, well, that’s just what you do, isn’t it?  I think that blinded me to the fact I really did love him.”  These were some of the remarks made at a young-adult singles “Learn to Succeed at Love” workshop I once facilitated.  They represent some of the other aspects of how we produce Love/Lust Confusion.

How Parenting And Friendship Can Help

Some parents think they should teach the destructive, idealized, fairy tales and misinformation they were taught about love and sex just to keep their offspring in a state of ‘pure and pretty innocence’.  I like to suggest innocence can just mean ignorance.  When we are ignorant of nature’s truths about love and sex we are in a state of dangerous vulnerability.  This can lead to enormous love life tragedies.  Is not teaching the truth to our children good parenting?  Do we best prepare them for the future by giving them the most complete and up-to-date understandings of sex and love, or do we set them up for failure by filling their heads with fairy tales and false information?

Sometimes friends also support the myths and misunderstandings of Love/Lust Confusion because it makes for a pleasant, non-confrontational interaction.  However, as was true for Turk in the above example, better friendship love is sometimes exemplified by presenting truth, as you understand it, whether or not it brings about conflict.

Straight Talk or Fog Talk

If you personally and truthfully talk with friends and family do you never-the-less talk in ways that perhaps confuse sex with love, or emphasize one and cloud the other?  In talking to a lover about love and sex can you be honest, self disclosing, straightforward, and also clearly ask for what you want.  Can you make a clear differentiation between love and sex, or are they put together in a fog of hints, innuendo and uncertain meanings?  Certainly love and sex can be mixed together just like love and food at a candlelight dinner.  However, it’s very important that sometimes the talk be really clear and there be little or no confusion.

With clear communication you and your lover, mate, spouse, etc. can do a much better job of mixing love and sex together when you want to.  You also can avoid many of the problems that arise with the false form of love known as Love/Lust Confusion.  Let me suggest you spend a little time examining yourself for how much Love/Lust Confusion may have gotten into your head, and what it might be doing to your relationship life.  You also might want to talk over with loved ones what they think about this, and how they see you in regard to Love/Lust Confusion.

As always – Grow and Grow with Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

Love Success Question Are the ways you talk to yourself about sex and love clear, comfortable, well-informed and honest?

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